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DEPRESSION Epidemiology According to the World Health Organisation, every year about 120 million people throughout the

world suffer from depression while only 25% of them have access to effective treatment. Studies show that in about 7% of cases the depression persists for a year. The statistics show that 15% of us suffer from depression at some point during our lifetime. The illness lasts typically from four to eight months and relapses are frequent. What is depression? Depression is an illness with a combination of associated symptoms of which the dominant one is a depressed state of mind accompanied by feelings of sadness and/or anxiety and/or irritability. It is a lengthy illness (i.e. one lasting at least two weeks). Depression affects the way we function in various ways: 1. biological functions: a disturbed sleep pattern; increased or reduced appetite; reduced libido and energy; 2. motivational functions: a reduced interest in others, in leisure activities, in daily life, in doing activities or reduced pleasure in doing them, a feeling of uselessness and incompetence and in the worst cases suicidal feelings; 3. cognitive functions: loss of self-esteem, inability to take decisions, pessimism and despair, reduced powers of concentration or attention; generally negative psychological attitudes; 4. behavioural functions: slower cerebral or motor functions, or, conversely, an agitated state; reduced frequency of active and productive behaviour, increased frequency of passive and unproductive behaviour. The severity of the depression is gauged by the range of symptoms and their intensity. It is absolutely essential for depression to be diagnosed by a doctor and preferably by a psychiatrist as early as possible. WHOM should one consult for a diagnosis? -your general practitioner, who must be your first port of call for your health problems -a psychiatrist who is a doctor specialising in mental illness and its treatment -a psychologist may propose a psychotherapy but is not authorised to prescribe medication (psychologists are not doctors). All three are bound by the Hippocratic oath to respect confidentiality.

What are the options for treating depression? Antidepressants: they alleviate the symptoms of the illness within three to four weeks and do not create a physical dependence. Antidepressants are effective ONLY if you take them in sufficient doses every day and over a sufficiently long period of time. Undesirable side-effects can be treated. The treatment must be stopped gradually on the basis of a steadily reduced dosage prescribed by your doctor. Psychotherapy: the problems can be addressed professionally in a receptive and non-judgemental environment in sessions with a psychiatrist or psychologist using a variety of techniques. The effectiveness of the treatment is increased and the risk of a relapse reduced if psychotherapy is accompanied by a course of antidepressants. Other therapies: Phototherapy involves exposing oneself to a special light for half an hour each day. It is effective in 65% of cases of seasonally adjusted disorder (SAD) (seasonal depression attributed to the lack of sunlight in winter). Hospitalisation is sometimes desirable in order to remove the patient from his environment in cases of severe depression requiring full-time care and treatment. What can be done to avoid depression? 1. Monitor your mood swings. Draw up a list of any warning signs you observe, such as insomnia or negative thoughts. 2. Identify which activities improve your mood and integrate them into your daily activities. 3. A healthy diet, exercise and good sleeping habits. Tiredness is aggravated by poor diet. Regular exercise has a positive impact on your mood. 4. Identify the personality traits that could lead you to have negative thoughts. If you have a tendency to perceive circumstances and events in far too negative a light, if you worry about things unduly, if you have difficulty in expressing your feelings, or if you tend to be inflexible or a perfectionist, you could derive advantage from a course of psychotherapy. 5. You cannot avoid stress, but you can learn to deal with it better by adopting new strategies. Deal with problems as they arise. Avoiding dealing with them results in an accumulation of stress. Be realistic about your capacity to absorb stress.

6. A good social and support network can act as a buffer against depression. Spending too much time on one's own can contribute to depression and to relapses. 7. Try to have a good work-life balance by ensuring that you devote sufficient time to work, to your family, to your friends and to leisure activities. 8. Above all, talk about your difficulties to someone who will respect your confidences or to a health professional.

Dr Vronique FASSNACHT, doctor and Sigrid MALANDAIN, psychologist CERN Medical Service